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the old oak

★★★★

starring: dave turner, elba mari, claire rodgerson, and trevor fox

REVIEWER: lyall carter

A pub landlord in a previously thriving mining community struggles to hold onto his pub. Meanwhile, tensions rise in the town when Syrian refugees are placed in the empty houses in the community.

The great Ken Loach, over his nearly sixty year career, has been not only the moral compass of British cultural life but also much of the Western world with the universality of the subjects and themes he’s explored. The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) and Sorry, We Missed You (2019) being two of his films in particular that are seared into my consciousness. While it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of his previous work, The Old Oak still remains a necessary watch with director Ken Loach’s cinematic swansong staying with you long after the credits have rolled.  

The Old Oak is a special place. Not only is it the last pub standing, but it’s also the only remaining public space where people can meet in a once-thriving mining community that has seen thirty hard years of decline. TJ Ballantyne, the landlord, hangs on to The Old Oak by his fingertips, and his predicament is endangered even more when the pub becomes contested territory after the arrival of Syrian refugees who are placed in the village without any notice. In an unlikely friendship, TJ meets a curious young Syrian woman, Yara, who has a camera. Can they find a way for the two communities to understand each other? So unfolds a deeply moving drama about their fragilities and hopes.

The Old Oak is typical Ken Loach fare. Fiercely humanistic in its themes, which are more often than not lacking subtlety, it's still one of 2023’s best films. While one purpose of a film is to entertain, another is for it to challenge, disrupt, and make you think. From its engaging narrative to its well rounded characters populated by little known actors, The Old Oak certainly entertains. 

But it’s the universal themes that dominant The Old Oak: no matter our cultural or religious differences we should come together, the power of the grassroot community, being an active participant in the human race will challenge and stay with you for days to come. 

 

While it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of his previous work, The Old Oak still remains a necessary watch with director Ken Loach’s cinematic swansong staying with you long after the credits have rolled. 

★★★★

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